Recipe: Jennifer Abadi’s Syrian Meatballs with Sour Cherries
In the first edition of our new Friday recipe feature, cookbook author Jennifer Abadi brings us kibbeh m’Gerraz, or Syrian meatballs with sour cherries, a classic Syrian-Jewish dish from her book, Fistful of Lentils: Syrian-Jewish Recipes From Grandma Fritzie’s Kitchen. “The sweet and tart flavor combining cumin, cinnamon and allspice is particularly Syrian,” says Abadi, who is currently at work on a collection of Sephardic Passover recipes. She suggests Syrian white rice with fried onions and pine nuts as a tasty side dish.
Yield: Serves four to five; makes about two dozen meatballs, plus sauce
Prep Time: 45-60 minutes
- 3/4 pound ground chuck
- 2 tablespoons matzah meal or plain dry bread crumbs
- 1 large egg, lightly beaten
- 2 tablespoons cold water
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1/8 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- 1/2 teaspoon ground allspice
- 1/4 teaspoon ground cumin
- 1/4 cup finely chopped yellow onions
- One 24-ounce jar or 3 cups sour pitted cherries (Abadi prefers the Hungarian kind that have less sugar)
- 1/2 cup finely chopped yellow onions
- 1/4 cup unsalted tomato paste
- 1 teaspoon vegetable or canola oil
- 1/4 cup cold water
- Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
- Dark brown sugar (amount depends upon how sweet the cherries are; if cherries are already sweet, leave out!)
Prepare the meatballs. Combine all the meatball ingredients in a medium-size bowl and squeeze together with your hands until well blended and the meat is very soft. Shape into small individual meatballs by rolling them between the palms of your hands, 1 tablespoon at a time. (Dip your fingers in a small dish of ice water and keep palms wet to keep the meat from sticking. If it does stick, scrape off with a blunt knife and return to the bowl.) Place each meatball on a plate and set aside.
Prepare the cherry sauce. Drain the liquid from cherries (do not discard!) and combine it in a medium saucepan with the onions, tomato paste, vegetable oil and water. Cook over medium heat for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally.
Add the salt, pepper and brown sugar (Taste cherries first! If they are very sweet, leave out sugar; if they are on the tart side, add enough brown sugar—about 2 to 3 teaspoons—to obtain a sweet-tart flavor). Bring to a boil, reduce the heat to medium-low, and simmer, uncovered, for 5 minutes. Add the whole cherries and combine gently with a spoon.
Add the meatballs to the cherry sauce, mixing them in very gently so as not to break up the meat. Cover and simmer over low heat until the sauce thickens enough to coat a spoon when dipped into the liquid and the meatballs are cooked through and fairly soft but firm, 20 to 30 minutes.
Serve hot over rice.
Syrian White Rice with Fried Onions and Pine Nut
- 2 cups long-grain white rice
- 4 tablespoons vegetable oil
- 1 cup finely chopped yellow onions
- ½ to 3/4 teaspoon salt
- For the Serving:
- 2 teaspoons vegetable or canola oil
- 3 tablespoons pine nuts
Place the rice in a medium-size bowl, add enough cold water to cover, and let soak for 10 minutes. Heat the oil in a large, heavy-bottomed saucepan for about a minute over medium heat.
When the oil is warm, add the onions and cook, stirring, until wilted and golden, 3 to 4 minutes; do not allow to brown or burn. Add 3 cups cold water and the salt to the saucepan and bring to a boil over high heat.
Drain the rice in a fine mesh strainer and add to the boiling water. Stir once gently and continue to boil briskly, uncovered, until the water is cooked down to the surface level of the rice, about 5 minutes. Cover tightly, reduce the heat as low as it will go, and steam until all the water is fully absorbed and the rice is tender but not mushy, 10 to 20 minutes.
Fold rice over very gently with a soup spoon. Just before serving the rice, heat the oil in a small, heavy frying pan. Stir constantly over medium heat until the nuts are brown, about 2 minutes. (Watch carefully so that they don’t burn.)
Put the rice in a serving bowl or platter and sprinkle with the hot nuts. Serve immediately.